Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Tragic Choice

The following is a true story, related to me by hunter/jumper instructor Anna Jane White-Mullin in a radio interview some years ago. A young girl had been taking lessons on a school horse and had talked her Dad into buying her a horse of her own. They had narrowed it down to two prospects: a flashy four year old, off-the-track Thoroughbred with a promising future; and a solid teenaged horse with a great deal of experience. The girl was lobbying hard for the younger horse. The girl’s father asked Anna Jane for her advice and, without a moment’s hesitation, Anna Jane replied, “Get the older horse. He will take care of your daughter, forgive her mistakes, and allow her to progress.” The father seemed to understand, thanked Anna Jane, and went on his way.

Some time later, Anna Jane learned the rest of the story.

The father assumed that in a few years his daughter would lose interest in riding and he would have to sell the horse. He reasoned that the younger horse would be easier to sell and would yield a greater return on his investment. The daughter of course was thrilled to get the horse of her dreams and tried her best to ride him. Unfortunately, the green horse and green rider proved a tragic combination. The girl was thrown, shattered her elbow, and was permanently disfigured. One can only imagine how the father must have felt.

I tell this story often because I want the importance of the message to sink in. Kids and puppies are cute. Kids and young horses are disastrous. If you know someone about to make this very common mistake, please do everything in your power to dissuade them. Have them email me and I will do the same.

Just this weekend, I spoke at Equine Affaire Massachusetts on this very topic. I learned later that two young sisters had been in the audience. Each was matched with an inappropriate horse, were regularly being bucked off or run away with, and were petitioning their parents to buy yet another horse for them, a three year old BLM mustang. I can only hope that the parents took my message to heart.

Those of you who know me personally know that I have strong feelings about childrearing and the parent’s role in creating strong, self-sufficient, responsible citizens. I believe in creating boundaries and requiring children (and horses) to live within the boundaries. Saying “no” to a child is hard but is sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do, especially when it comes to saying “no” to an inappropriate horse.



horseposse said...

Excellent advice, thank you Rick. Let's hope this message gets out there. And a note to sellers of horses out there: have the decency and guts to dissuade youngsters and novice riders from buying your inappropriate green broke horses just so you can make a sale.

KD said...

I agree whole heartedly. Someone at work recently told me that they got a yearling for their 3 year old daughter and asked my opinion. I was very honest, told her how unwise and DANGEROUS it would be.

Unfortunately, her father thinks he can train the colt and that the child will be ready for the horse when it's older and trained.

I'm afraid of what might happen.

Tom said...

I agree. So many people think that any horse over 10 is "old." My horses are now 18, 19, and 27. I still ride all of them regularly on trail rides (altho the 27 yo is semi-retired). People are just amazed to find out my horses are that old and still getting along great. I hear "I didn't know horses live that long" and "that horse looks great...can't believe it's that old." And they are still active; you should see my 27 yo kick up her heels and lead the herd when I let them out to pasture! Give an older, experienced horse a chance.

alexander said...

I totally agree with you Rick. People need to put the childs safety before the look of the horse also. Far more sense to put a rider on a plain looking safe horse than a horse that looks great but is above the standard of the the child or anyone for that matter.
cheers Rick from Downunder!

Zoe said...

So very very true. When my daughter was 12, with a few years of lessons under her belt, I bought a green 7-year-old Connemara/TB cross for us to "share." Within a year the mare had run away with my daughter and traumatized her to the point where she was ready to give up riding. I then went out and bought a 17-year old Appendix eventer for her. I like to say it was the "only sane horse money I ever spent." Over the next 3 years he took her up the Pony Club levels, and she showed him successfully in eventing and dressage. I can't count the number of times people tried to buy him from me. He was her best friend. She took him to college and today he is retired on golden pastures, at 27, living the life of Reilley.

I kept the mare, and she became MY best friend, but I was an older, not-so-green rider. I agree with your point 500%. Schoolmasters for schoolchildren, the best possible investment.

aileen adamson said...

That is the best advice I had heard in a long time. I was looking for a horse when I was in my teens. And a barn sold me a real tame horse,so he said it was a nightmare Rick. It was a three year old Ap. And It was green and sick with a severe cold. Once I started the medication. He started feeling better. He was in a full gallop toward the barn. I could not stop him. I laid down on the reins and he threw me over his head. Needless to say I went to the hospital. Luckily nothing was broken. But, I finally bought me 6 acres. I now have a 12 year old Quarter horse. I did the smart choice and bought a seasoned horse.
I have two granddaughters that I would not be afraid to place on her back.
I just wish I had your advice then. A green horse is not a good choice unless someone qualified trains it or you are an experienced trainer.

joelreiter said...

Here's a less tragic, but equally sad take on this theme. When my daughter was 12 she was horse crazy and paid for riding lessons with her own money. I inherited a colt and planned to train him myself. The colt is 12 now and really turning into a nice horse. My daughter is 24 and in law school. She lost interest long before the horse was ready to ride. I'll always feel guilty about it.

howboutacowgirl said...

Rick too many times I have had prospective buyers try to find a horse that is 4 years old with 10 years of experience. It's sad to see that the value of an older horse is looked down upon. Recently I have had 3 different buyers call me looking for a horse, all of them were nervous or fearful, I always tell them to save their money take lessons and never buy a young or green horse. Most of them really didn't want to hear this but I care about where my horses are going and it needs to be a good match for both.

fourdillons said...

i agree only to a certain extent. i have a 24 yr old quarter type who is so high spirited he can only be ridden by an experienced rider. on the other hand i have 2 blm mustangs 3yr old and 2 yr old that i adopted as a yearling and weanling and they are the gentlest horses i have ever owned. somewhat small at 14 hands i would not hesitate to put any adult or child on either one of them. its the training that counts not the age of the horse.

Barbara said...

Oh, how true this all is. I have in my barn now a horse from a church camp. She is an appaloosa and not the most physically attractive horse but to me she is beautiful because her age and kindness and experience have earned her a spot with me for the winter. The camp called me and asked if I would take her because she had had to have surgery after a bout with strangles closed her esaphagus and made eating very difficult. They said that usually green "People" new to horses would take these horses on over winter so their kids could experience horse ownership on a trial basis. IF I did not take this horse and manage her problems , they might have to put her down. Well, special senior feed, a good companion. fourth cutting alfalfa and beet pulp have her hale and hearty. I told my hay supplier that he may have to haul hay to the camp because I never found hay that good in the area where it is located. But this horse will be able to teach kids for years. Friends laugh when they see her running and say, "this is the little kids' horse?"Yes small children were her specialty but I will have to start riding her which they thought would not be in her future until spring. Now weight management by exercise will be our dual roles!

Rick said...

Fourdillons, you are absolutely right. The relationship between an individual horse and an individual human takes on its own unique character. The ages of the two are just one variable. However, we still have an ongoing problem with inexperienced people getting inexperienced horses, which is what I hoped to address. Thanks for the good point.

David said...

How very important it is to match horse to rider, and rider to horse. Build a relationship, build confidence, build a foundation. I have a summer camp for boys, with a heard of 45. I always want them to dismount with the attitude that they want more. Leave them wanting more!

aileen adamson said...


I feel that you are a very special person to have taken this horse into your care,My horse once had the Strangles but I caught it in the early stages. I can hardly believe that a church camp would put down a horse for Strangles. Unless it was in the advanced stages that would require surgery. I wonder why people wait for something bad to happen before they call a vet. I bought my horse in August and she was pretty expensive because she came from Iowa. But, after she got settled in I had a vet come to the house had her teeth floated and vacs. In doing all of that I knew she didn't sleep well at night. She walked the back yard at night. I could hear her and her motion lights came on. The reason was a broken tooth. The vet found it when he floated her teeth. If I hadn't have bought her she would probably have that bad tooth today.
People who have not been around horses wait till the last minute to get medical help. I feel that ia a shame.

rollingthunder said...

Excellent and very valid points, Rick. Around where I live, I have a low-profile status as being able to help with problem horses. 99.9% of the time, it's a rider with a problem, and again 99.9% of the time it's inexperience and miscommunication. I recall working with three ladies who were sharing one horse, a youngster, with no real handle on him, and even less confidence. Within about a month of working with them and this colt, they had developed enough communication and leadership to lope figure eights in the arena with no reins, and work passable leg yields. I was able to do it a bit sooner than they could, but frankly, there was a drastic disparity in their horsemanship skills and mine, and I consider myself a very unskilled rider. So I had real concerns as to whether or not they could offer this horse the leadership necessary to make him feel at ease within a horse and rider team. The one thing they DID have going for them was their riding ability. They were all good riders foundationally, but weren't able to truly feel the horse and listen and then respond in a way that built the relationship. I've always said that riding is the act of keeping a horse between you and the ground, no matter what, but horsemanship is the act of getting a horse to WANT to stay between you and the ground, no matter what. And while they had all developed good riding skills, their horsemanship skills weren't prepared to deal with a green colt.

In the end, what I came away with was that it is not just the younger children that develop BSS and end up way over their heads, it's the older generations, to and they really should know better.

nancy said...

I'm the exception to the rule. I was a 50 yr old first time rider and I bought a 3 yr old, unbroke Anglo-Arab mare that had almost NEVER been even handled. She'd just been left in the field with her dam. She didn't tie, groom, stand, or even like people. I got her becase she was under weight and wormey and I felt sorry for her.
It took years, but we are best friends. We ride every where, and
I mean do every where. Alone, or with a couple of horses, or with 30horses...Long rides, short rides, slow rides, fast rides, over night horse camping, Even parades. And now we are learning to jump so we can fox hunt. I've become a very good rider because of her. I had to. She wouldn't let me be lazy and just sit there. I'm 65 years old (going on 35in my mind and body) and we amaze everyone. Everyone says she is the best behaved mare and best looking horse in whatever situation we find ourselves.
As far as I am concerned, we saved each other. Because of her, I love life now. I didn't before. I got her against all advice. Thank God I did!! Sometimes GOD gives you what you need when you need it.
I am not recommending this or disputing other comments. I just have to say that sometimes it works.

marcylou said...

My stepfather was a novice rider who was killed by an inexperienced horse. The horse was not particularily young either but had not been properly handled or trained. My stepfather thought he could train this horse himself. It is a very serious mistake to buy more horse than you can handle and we should be especially protective of children. This was just a freak accident that could easily happen to anyone on the wrong horse.

aileen adamson said...

Rick, why do so called horse traders sell a horse to someone unseasoned to the horse world? They have to know that the kid is going to be hurt. I don't understand how someone could be that determined to make a sell. To actually to put a child in danger.
I was 6 when I was on my first runaway. I had the reins and the saddle horn in my grasp. I just held on till the horse reached the boarding stables. It was a scary experience I'll never forget it. But, I do like older horses they are calmer. They don't spook as bad either.
I hope someone can get the message out to these kids to learn on at 10 to 12 year old horses.

I think you are doing great on educating people about horses. Keep up the good work. My husband is getting you book from Human to Horseman for me for Christmas

tntranchmt said...

Hey Rick... We are so glad you are advocating this advise! I am in my mid 40's and am lucky enough to finally fullfil my dream of buying a horse of my own. We chose an older (13 yr old) gelding who has a real calm demeanor with a great mind set. I have been riding him on poker trail rides and with an equestrian drill team for the past 2 years now. He has repeatedly forgiven my nieve riding skills and has saved me from dumping several times while riding in drill compititions. I have always been very proud of the difference in him being able to stay calm in high stress situations while other riders become frustrated with their horses do to the horse acting up under stress.
I am ready for a horse with a little more engine now, but, we have grandchildren who will be ready to ride in a couple of years, so, feel we are very lucky to have a tried and true horse we can put them on who we trust and know will take good care of them.
Eventhough, our grandson wants to ride our 4 yr old BLM mustang I would never let him get on Buck as Buck is to inexperienced and needs several more years of carrying a rider and emotional maturing before a younger less experienced rider gets on him. It wouldn't be fair to our grandson or Buck to put that combination together and expect a good outcome. We would be setting both of them up for failure!
We don't want our grandchildren to have bad experiences on horses and beleive that with the correct supervision, best safety equipment and most important of all an appropiate horse we are cutting the possibilities of a disaster by several percentage points. Their lives are just not worth risking.

Tonya Tuliback

mrdemiller71 said...

Hi Rick, I agree with your advice, but my girlfriend and I found the exception to the rule. We bought a 4 year old a little over a year ago, and all our kids ride him. He is so mild mannered. My girlfriends 5 year old daughter rides him around the pen with nothing on him. We've had him in a wedding and he did great. He doesn't get excited, but he'll work if we ask it of him. He seems to know the difference between the kids and the adults and the experience level of the rider. He just an awesome horse all the way around. He still amazes us to this day. We love him to death and wouldn't trade him for nothing in the world. We have had alot of people critizes us for buying him but once they meet him they change their minds about him. Every body falls smooth in love with him. We named him Doc, cause he's just so easy going.

Holli said...

I think there are no absolutes, there are always exceptions to the rules. A lot of times using some common sense and not letting our emotions and egos get in the way makes a difference. Parelli has a great way of classifying "Horsenalities" which if we use as a basis of trying to understand/read horses will give us the power to understand them and develop a true relationship.

cheryl said...

That's good advice for children and adults equally. There are so many young to middle aged adults getting their first horse these days and attracted to the bargain horse, the pretty horse, the color or breed they've always wanted or admired. Ofter they end up with a horse too young or an older "evergreen". "Green on green makes black and blue" is too often the result or the adult ends up with a green pasture pet they just love and won't sell.

We have our ego's to protect too. Have you ever gone to a boarding barn and read a sign posted, "All riders under the age of 18 must wear helmets". What's up with that!?

Karen C. said...

Hi Rick,
This is great advice. I also realize that you know there are exceptions to the rules, but when looking at the percentages your topic is right on the mark. Green horses and green riders equal black and blue. And that is if they are lucky! Sometimes it is worse.
People really need to take the time to know what they are getting.
I have a 27 yr old mare who has no mercy on anybody who can't stay on. If you can ride, you can get on her and have the best time! If you are nervous, you get on my 5 yr old mustang gelding who is much more patient.
This has been a great topic and I have enjoyed reading about peoples experiences and thoughts on this.
Now go hug your horse! :-)

Barbara said...

Aileen, the App mare I took in did have surgery when her strangles had damaged her esophagus and that is why the camp was so distressed because they knew she would need nursing care over the winter when the camp was closed and they had taken very good care of her to have her in good clean shape for me to take over. SHe is a sweety and takes her eating very seriously and with a great deal of appreciation.

Lynn said...

I agree with your wisdom about green riders and green horses. I am 58 years old, and only started riding 3 years ago. I got a 22 year old mare, and she was the best friend I ever had. She was forgiving of my mistakes, and patient at my learning. I had to put her down 3 weeks ago, but I will always be grateful to my first horse. She taught me a lot. Thanks for the wisdom. I hope to see Maggie again some day. Lynn

Barbara said...

Lynn, Hope you will consider getting another friend and teacher. There are a lot of them out there in this economy and for a horseless person this is is a great opportunity. In Nebraska, they have almost stopped having horse sales because unsold horses are just left there. People have had to start locking stock trailers at sale barns because desperate people will leave a horse in your trailer.

muleyjulie said...

I've been trying to tell the same thing to one of my boarders. Green horse, green rider - 4 yo TB mare 16.1, 50 yo overweight woman who "has read everything, got all the DVDs". Told her sometime ago, it's not "if" it's going to happen, it's "when". Second ride in the arena and she was on the ground. I suggested she get a helmet. I wish people would listen to people who've been there and done that! Thanks for letting me vent.

marcylou said...

seems to me that some of the training videos and articles inadvertently convince new riders that they can easily apply these methods with any horse. I dont think it is intentional but I dont think the new rider realizes the experience the trainer has with timing. Timing is so much more important with a high energy or problem horse.